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ruthcooks

Those elusive butterbeans...

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In the 34 years I lived in the South, I heard many comments about butterbeans. Some people said they were baby lima beans, and others swore they were a completely different bean. Once, I found some fresh at the farmer's market and couldn't tell myself what they were, even though I am familiar with baby limas. If they are lima beans, why are they called butterbeans? And if not, why can't I find them as butterbeans in grocery stores or seed catalogs? Or does butterbean refer to the size or age of the bean rather than the horticultural classification?

Hope you can clear up this puzzlement for me, and thanks for your participation.

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Hi Ruthcooks,

I had to check with my brother who still lives in Choctaw County in Alabama about butter beans. He has one of the best gardens for miles around.

We agreed: butter beans and lima beans are very similar in taste but actually are two different varieties. The pods of fresh lima beans are pale green, while fresh butter beans are light brown or gray-brown in color, and can be speckled with purple. There are many varieties.

Generally the pod of mature butter beans is a little smaller than that of lima beans. On the other hand, dried baby lima beans and dried large lima beans are white. I have never seen butter beans dried and sold in packages.

However, I am sure that you can order the seeds for butter beans from some of the major horticultural companies. As for the name, my brother and I were stumped. But I suspect the delicious pod, butter bean, gets it name from its velvety texture.

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